Sunday, March 02, 2008

Fulham 0 Manchester United 3 - Never mind the Bullard

This was too easy for Man Utd and reminiscent of the earlier loss to Arsenal. United fielded a decent side but rested several key players ahead of their European match midweek and still won at a canter. I went with low expectations, hoping that if I could convince myself we were going to lose, it wouldn't hurt so much when we did. The signs were there right from the start. Less than five minutes in and a ball over the top left our back four flat footed and former employee Louis Saha raced though to collect the ball but fire hopelessly wide. It would have been the sort of goal I'd seen Saha score for us a number of times.

Having survived we played the ball around brightly enough, but as has been characteristic of recent performances, gave the ball away too easily and couldn't find that final ball. With the first quarter hour still not up United won a freekick on the very edge of our box. I hoped it might be too close, but Owen Hargreaves caught everyone by surprise by lifting a cute free kick over the wall and into the far left hand corner of the goal. 1-0 down and we were up against it already. We tried our best to get back in the game but found it hard going. United worked really hard all game and this paid dividends. Bullard, who was not on the best of form, found himself closed down at every opportunity, United clearly identifying him as our main source of inspiration. I'm one of Jimmy's biggest fans but he didn't cope well with this and too often tried to do too much or gave the ball away too cheaply. Equally Eddie Johnson was finding it hard to fit into his role as wide midfielder. He showed poor control early on and similarly gave the ball away time and time again. As the final minutes ticked down we would have been pleased to go in only 1-0 down. It was not to be. Carlos Tevez made a surging run but seemed to control the ball with his hand (though it was a long way from my eyesight). The ref wasn't interested and play continued, eventually reaching Scholes on the right flank. He fired in a reasonable cross from the wing, which somehow found Park Ji-Sung in the box who was able to out leap both Hughes and Hangeland to head home a second goal. Hangeland and Hughes ended up in a heap looking at each other unable to explain what had just happened.

The second half continued in much the same vein. Our 5 man midfield huffed and puffed but just couldn't get a grip on the game. Time and again we failed to use the width of the pitch or play the simple ball in from the flanks. Last week I'd berated Kamara and Dempsey for doing this, but seeing E.J. and Davies perform in a similar style this week I'm begining to think this was instruction from Roy H. I don't understand what he thought he could achieve, but too often we overplayed in areas where we didn't need to and for the second week running McBride was left a disinterested spectator. The one bright spark in midfield was Moritz Volz. Early in the first half he's been caught in possession a couple of times and I'd thought he might get found out, but as the game wore on he grew into his role and became a driving force for much of our attacking play. His work rate was excellent, he won a number of tough headers and chased down, and won a number of seemingly lost causes. His eventual replacement by Nevland with less than three minutes remaining saw him leave the field to a well deserved standing ovation. By then it was all over, John O'Shea had found a way around Konchesky on the left side, shot across goal and picked up a lucky deflection from Simon Davies thigh that left Niemi with no chance to react.

I spent the last ten minutes on my feet singing "Roy Hodgson's Black & White Army" along with the rest of the Hammy End choir. Bizarrely it felt good to be a Fulham supporter again, maybe we're regaining that siege mentality of following a team you know isn't that good but, as we watched the last few fruitless attempts at claiming a consolation goal, the feeling of unity gave me a bit of a lift. I'd been angry and upset after losing to West Ham, and completely fed up after the 3-0 loss to Arsenal but for some reason I came out of this game with a new sense of purpose. It's difficult to see where we might pick up the points we need now but I'm ready for whatever happens. If we go down then so be it but I'm not going to give up hope just yet.

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